'I am really happy with the players I had on the pitch' - Mourinho backs squad despite Anfield humiliation
Under-pressure Jose Mourinho remains confident that Manchester United will finish in the top four of the Premier League, despite Sunday's chastening loss at bitter rivals Liverpool leaving them 11 points off the pace.
A difficult season for the Old Trafford giants continued on Sunday as they deservedly lost to the leaders in a one-sided encounter at Anfield.
United were level at half-time after Alisson Becker's blunder saw Jesse Lingard cancel out Sadio Mane's opener, but Liverpool's pressure eventually counted as substitute Xherdan Shaqiri's deflected brace secured a 3-1 win.
It leaves Jurgen Klopp's men an eye-watering 19 points ahead of United after just 17 matches, but the 11-point gap to the Champions League spots is arguably even more concerning.
Asked if he was confident of making up that margin, Mourinho said: "Yes, I think (we can).
"What gives me that belief? It gives me the belief that we are going to make much more points in the second part of the season than we did in the first part.
"I know we lost some other matches but we played away at Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester City - probably the three best teams apart from Tottenham.
"But we play with them away. I think we have more possibility to get more points in the second part of the season than the first part."
Mourinho's side do have a kind-looking set of matches coming up but they desperately need to up their performance heading into the festive fixtures.
Too many players underperformed at Anfield, yet the United manager took the unusual step of shouldering the blame.
"I don't think a football team is just a squad - it's much more than the squad," Mourinho said.
"I am really, really happy with the players that I had on the pitch, with their attitude, with their effort. I am more than happy.
"And because I am more than happy, I assume the responsibilities of the defeat and I want them to be hidden behind me. They gave absolutely everything. Honest people, they gave absolutely everything.
"Eric Bailly knows he plays one minute before the game (because of Chris Smalling's injury in the warm-up).
"(Victor) Lindelof trained one day to play, (Diogo) Dalot trained one day to play.
"(Matteo) Darmian trained one day to play, Ashley Young played with a sore ankle and I could go on, and on, and on.
"I am happy with the players' commitment and the players' attitude.
"I feel really sorry for them because I don't think their effort deserve to lose the game we did.
"If we concede two goals in first 20 minutes I would say 'OK, the best team just killed us in the first 20 minutes'.
"To lose the way we did in the moment we did, I feel sorry for the boys."
Mourinho defended hapless Romelu Lukaku's display - "I think he was positive" - and his decision to leave Paul Pogba, not so long ago the world's most expensive player, on the bench.
The United boss did, though, admit his side struggled with Liverpool's fast, intense play - the result of the injury issues which have long hampered the squad.
"We have lots of problems related with physicality," Mourinho said.
"We have lots of players that I could consider injury-prone because some of our players are always injured - and it's not with me, it was before me.
"If you look to the stats with Mr (Louis) van Gaal and David (Moyes), we have players that are permanently injured. When you are permanently injured, physicality is very difficult to get.
"Then there are qualities that a player has or doesn't have. You cannot improve, you cannot make them have.
"I gave you an example. (Andrew) Robertson, Mane, (Mohamed) Salah, (Georginio) Wijnaldum, (Naby) Keita, Fabinho - they are physical players.
"On top of that they are good technically - I also have lots of good players technically but we don't have many players with that intensity or physicality."